In fall 2017, a little program that kinda could came out on Fox called “Ghosted.” While it followed the standard “X-Files” format of having an enthusiastic Mulder and a doubting Scully, it shook things up a big by having those roles respectively played by comics Craig Robinson and Adam Scott. Robinson was former LAPD detective Leory Wright, and Scott was disgraced Stanford physics professor Max Jennifer, both trying to regain their former glory by working at the Bureau Underground, a paranormal wing of the United States government.
The series–of which both Robinson and Scott are executive producers–kicked off with a surprisingly well produced pilot, which featured some truly twisted images, including glow-in-the-dark messages in a storage facility and a zombified factory worker pursuing his screaming head, as well as a funny, albeit now slightly uncomfortable, joke about Kevin Spacey, all covered in a glossy 1980s sheen.
Further episodes featured some fairly freaky set pieces. Episode seven–a send up of ghost hunter TV shows–was set in an abandoned hospital with a doorway to a labyrinthine dimension soaked in murderer-friendly plastic tarp; episode eight centered in part on a girl who refuses to speak after being yanked off an LA area haunted hayride by an invisible force–but she will growl in Latin.
Of course, the show was never supposed to be scary. That was just a delightful side effect. The point was mostly to get Scott and Robinson together on screen so they could play off each other, which they did marvelously well. Their offbeat banter was oddly fitting for a show that dealt with the paranormal, and their relationship was refreshingly simplistic. Not to mention Scott’s efforts at unrequited office romance with Annie, a sarcastic weapons tech played by Amber Stevens West, were relatable. At least I thought they were…
And then, the little show that kinda could stopped after nine episodes, although more were promised. Fox delivered them this summer, and the results are different. This second half–episodes 10 through 16–seems to have caught a case of “The Office.” Symptoms include dry humor and quirky drama, a lot of handheld camera and sudden zooms, and an excessive amount of interior settings.
For the record, Robinson was on the American “Office,” and Scott was on “Parks and Recreation.” Also notably, Kevin Etten–who worked on the comedy-horror TV series “Reaper”–was out as showrunner, and Paul Lieberstein–who worked on an “Office”-esque show called “The Office”–was in. Maybe it was an attempt at sparking interest in the show–there are always a few shows that do things in an “Office” vein. Or maybe it’s simply the fact that the format is much cheaper.
The first few episodes barely left the Bureau Underground’s underground facility and mostly dealt with internal politics given a slight paranormal twist–the commute home takes a dark cast after a psychic’s prediction; an efficiency expert is called in after the existence of aliens is leaked to the public. The first half of the show kept things in the building sometimes, but there was usually a Deep One running around in the air ducts and tearing off people’s faces (episode four).
It’s not until the 14th episode that the boys finally leave the office and possibly see a UFO on the PCH, but the following episode has them investigating a paranormal airplane exclusively at an isolated airport–one location, no monsters and less focus on Robinson and Scott and more on the ensemble cast.
Which isn’t to say that the show isn’t funny any more. There’s still room for quality Hitler jokes, and there’s occasionally even a gag about Los Angeles traffic. It’s still all right, especially when Ally Walker, who returns as a no nonsense superior officer, deadpans or Robinson and Scott get to be alone and do their thing.
And, perhaps trying to keep with the spirit of the first half, underlying each episode is a single narrative thread concerning conspiracy theories, wiretapping and a secret society that might be in touch with the multiverse, but that doesn’t lend itself to a lot of jump scares and set pieces. It was nice to have a funny scare-a-normal show on broadcast television. I can’t remember the last show like that, but “Freaky Links” springs to mind.
The last episode of the first season airs tonight. Presumably it will tie up enough of the conspiracy to keep us involved, but not enough to spoil a second season (one which looks fairly unlikely at this point); it will expand or confound the relationship between Leroy, Max and Annie; and maybe it will get the boys and girls out of the office. It would be another thing entirely if it tosses in some monster hunting, but it certainly would be welcome. Although there is something oddly satisfying about Robinson playing the “Ghostbusters” theme on piano…